In capitalist economies, most of us are excluded from decision-making. Workplaces have hierarchical structures and when one does find oneself in a meeting, the experience can often be frustrating and disempowering.
This is true for the political sphere of life too. While we can turn up every 5 years to cast a vote in a ballot, liberal democracy does not provide the majority of us much meaningful influence over the issues that affect us and experience leaves us feeling frustrated and alienated. For the most of us, our experience of meetings and debate is not a positive one. When we watch political figures debating issues in parliament or on TV, it tends to be confrontational and we are left thinking that this is what politics, decision-making and democracy is all about. People just sticking to their views, attempting to point score, and rigidly arguing their point. Politics is plagued with what has been called the ‘dictatorship of the sociable’.
Instead, a Participatory Economy is an economy organised around direct-decision making, where people get to participate in decisions that affect them. This is achieved through a bottom-up system of neighbourhood councils, where every local resident is a member, and workers’ councils at every workplace, where every worker is a member.
There will be meetings in these Consumers’ Councils, Workers’ Councils and within their respective Federations. What will these meetings look like, how can they be efficient and meet the goal of self-management – for every individual to have a say in a decision based on the degree that they are affected by it?
Apart from meetings needing people to share information and reach decisions participatory meeting practices are designed to support and empower the participants to achieve diversity, foster enthusiasm, empathy and generate solidarity. Solidarity and a sense of community are ideal conditions for a successful group trying to achieve shared aims.
Throughout history people concerned with democracy, freedom and non-hierarchical decision-making have experimented intuitively, explicitly, and implicitly with what has recently been called ‘Participatory Decision Making Practices’. They have been refined over time. More recently they have been used in grassroots organisations from Occupy to Extinction Rebellion.
While there are many varieties Practices of meetings and different types of hand signs, I will present here one set of guidelines to give people an idea of how meetings could be held in a Participatory Economy. For those interested in more practical information on how to run an effective participatory meeting, a good resource is seeds for change. They usually include appointing some people to specific roles, the use of hand signs, and the use of different techniques. Here are the main components:
- Makes sure that the meeting runs smoothly & ends on time (it is also responsibility of all in the group to make sure the meeting runs smoothly too).
- Enables participation so no one dominates the conversation eg. encouraging people to participate, and limiting people who tend to dominate and do the most talking.
- The role is shared or rotated in the group so people can develop skills and confidence.
- Takes down key decisions and action points then shares with group after the meeting.
- Summarise Action points at the end of the meeting.
- After meeting shares the minutes with the the Action points on to the group.
1) Make a Point – Raise a hand or forefinger when you wish to contribute to the discussion.
2) Make a Direct Point – Raise both forefingers if your point is directly relevant. This allows you to jump to the head of the queue, in front of everyone raising just one finger. This is open to abuse and requires strict facilitation.
3) Two arms up – This is to get the groups attention without shouting. The idea is when you see someone with both arms up you copy them until everyone has there hands up and the group is silent.
4) Clarification – To request clarification, translation or to ask the speaker to use less complex language.
5) Technical Point – Indicates a proposal about the process of the discussion, such as “let’s discuss this in small groups” or “lets have a break”.
6) Agree / Disagree – Waving your hands while in the air shows agreement. Waving your hands while down shows disagreement. This saves time and avoids people verbally saying ‘I agree/disagree’
7) Temperature check – Everyone raises their hand along a imagine vertical axis with support for an idea at the top and no support at the bottom.
8) Round up – When the speaker is being long winded and is reminded to come to an end to let others speak.
Beehive – Split into smaller groups to discuss a issue or topic then report back to the larger group.
Round Robin – Everyone takes a turn to speak on a subject without interruption or comment from other people.
Ideastorming – Ask people to say whatever comes into their heads as fast as possible then write down all ideas for later discussion.
Today there exists what some refer to as Democratic Schools such as Summerhill School in the UK and Sudbury Valley School in the USA. There are around 500 Democratic Schools all over the world, which use participatory meeting practices. Typically, they have a meeting once a week where members of the community can participate in from the age of 4 to adulthood. Children as young as 4 have the same say in decisions as adults about the running and rules of the community. Some of the Democratic Schools, have existed for decades, the oldest of which is a century old. Young citizens in a Participatory Economy could learn these meeting practices in similarly organised Democratic Schools, so by the time they enter into a Workers’ or Consumers’ council, effective participation would be second nature.
“At Summerhill, the pupils would fight to the death for their right to govern themselves. In my opinion, one weekly General School Meeting is of more value than a week’s curriculum of school subjects”Summerhill’s founder, A.S.Neill
Using participatory meeting practices as described above will foster participation and meet the goals of self-management, solidarity and diversity. With the right structures and practices from an early age, meetings needn’t be debilitating and unproductive like today.
Seeds for Change
“We offer training, meeting facilitation and online resources on collective organising and consensus decision making, developing your strategy, campaign and action skills, setting up groups and co-ops, co-operative governance and training for trainers.”
Their resources page has lots of online material for participatory meeting practices such as facilitating meetings guides, facilitation tools for meetings and workshops, a short guide to taking minutes at meetings plus much more.
Resource page →
This handbook has loads of great information and tips and tricks about holding participatory meeting practices. While it is based around consensus decision making It can easily be adapted for Self-Managed decision making. There is a free pdf version you can download plus paperback and digital versions too.
A Consensus Handbook pdf →
Download 8 hand signs to pin up on the wall to help at your next participatory meeting. They are A3 pdfs and can be printed in A4 as well.